|Toy Design||Hironori Kobayashi|
Review by VF5SS
While the Transformers brand involves a lot of change, its fans are known for being apprehensive when the status quo gets shaken up. When designer, Shogo Hasui, began a soft "reboot" of the Masterpiece line, there was naturally some skepticism from the community. And yet, even with the toys skewing a bit smaller and losing some amenities like rubber tires, Hasui's general vision of Diaclone-like playability and interactivity, coupled with respectful updates of Generation One characters, ensured that the majority of collectors ended up embracing this new direction for Masterpiece Transformers. This shift has even played a large role in shaping the "Third Party" industry, as most MP-alikes are aiming to fit in with Hasui's style.
After a string of about a dozen well-received releases with Hasui's guidance, the line experienced another inevitable sea change as Shogo Hasui was reassigned to other Transformers products. Replacing him seems to be the original Masterpiece headliner, Hironori Kobayashi, and although this has not been confirmed (as of this review), many fans reacted to the news with the same trepidation they had felt when Hasui took the reins. After the generally well-received Ultra Magnus, a new wave of "real car" series Autobots is set to take center stage.
And so, let's take an in-depth look at the latest Masterpiece Transformer to see if the line has remained on track. I present to you, Masterpiece Tracks!
Please check out my video review!
Tracks continues the line's dedication to using real licensed vehicles where appropriate, with this stunning rendition of a 1982 Corvette Stingray. Such a handsome Autobot deserves nothing less than an equally handsome vehicle mode, so Tracks's exterior sports a sparkling blue paint job. He is about six inches long in car mode.
As a robot trying to disguise himself as a svelte sports car, Tracks has a lot of parts packed away in vehicle mode. The upside to this is that everything needed for his car, flying car, and robot mode is all integrated into the toy. It's a fairly substantial change from the G1 toy, which had the entire missile launcher assembly as a separate piece. The downside to this is that the tightly packed nature of Tracks's transformation means there are a lot of things that have to work right for the car mode to come together. I say this because my figure's joints are quite tight, so making the minute adjustments to, say, an arm or leg, can be tough on my copy of the toy.
All that said, Tracks is still a sexy machine - one who proudly flaunts his officially licensed Corvette badges.
From front to back, Tracks has everything covered in the style department. There's even a spot for a license plate.
As a nod to the fan-favorite episode "Make Tracks", the Masterpiece comes with a small figure of the blue Autobot's human buddy, Raoul!
He's just a little fixed-pose figure who looks decent for his size. Raoul is a little over an inch and a half tall.
I do appreciate having a tiny ode to 80s fashion immortalized in plastic.
Spike (from MP-10 Optimus) wants to make friends, but Raoul is a bit skeptical.
Tracks himself integrates a reference to his eponymous episode, with a working hood (or bonnet) which reveals the Cybertronian engine that Raoul managed to disable by clipping a single wire. The whole gimmick is a clever bit of engineering, as the movable panels are part of the toy's transformation to robot mode.
Also included with Tracks is a tiny version of Blaster (known as Broadcast in Japan) in radio mode. Blaster and Tracks worked together in both "Make Tracks" and the follow-up episode, "Auto-Bop", so this is a very character appropriate accessory.
The minuscule MicroChange alumnus is nicely painted for his size, and pretty accurate to the original toy.
The back of the radio is rather plain, but does feature a tab allowing Blaster to attach to Tracks like a trendy Walkman.
Like Masterpiece Bumblebee, Tracks features a symbol flip gimmick that hides his yellow-backed Autobot symbol with a rotating panel. However, you have to partially transform him in order to utilize this feature, so I tend to just leave the Auto-brand out in the open. I honestly don't remember him having a blank blue roof in the cartoon, but the gimmick doesn't get in the way of anything. The roof symbol was actually a rub-sign on the G1 toy, so the Autobot face has a thick black outline as a reference to the old color-changing sticker.
Also, Tracks's side view mirrors come separate from the toy in box (like with Wheeljack and Bumblebee). It feels like they need a fair bit of force to snap in on my toy, so for some parts of this review I simply left them off. You get two sets on sprues, in case you damage a mirror.
While accessing the symbol flip gimmick, you can store Tracks's accessories on what will become his robo-fanny. Since his head takes up a lot of space inside the car's cabin, Tracks can only fit one thing at a time while in this mode (note the previous picture shows his Black Beam gun being stored).
Of course, roof symbol or not, you can always tell what side Tracks is on thanks to his massive hood decal. What was once a giant sticker on the G1 toy is tampo printed on the Masterpiece.
I've seen a few car guys balk at the sight of this Trans Am "flaming chicken" style emblem, but it was present even on the original Diaclone toy, with the place that would later hold the Autobot symbol displaying a big "CS" for Corvette Stingray. On the lead up to this toy's release, I was a bit worried that Tracks's transformation scheme would leave a huge gap in the hood flame, but the Masterpiece manages to keep everything tabbed together damn near perfectly.
Tracks scales fairly well with rest of his Autobot comrades while in vehicle mode. Of course, the toys adhere more to robot mode size, so the cars are all roughly the same length, regardless of what is true in real life.
And rest assured, Tracks will happily fit inside MP-10's trailer to complete the Diaclone legacy.
The Masterpiece figure takes the G1 toy's flight mode a step further with some additional parts and details seen in the cartoon. Tracks's arms now end with faux jet intakes, and he even has a pair of tiny flip-up tail fins just like in the show! Also, his forearms tab firmly into the sides of the vehicle, making what seemed like an afterthought on the original toy feel like a legitimate configuration.
A nondescript hole underneath where the arms are normally stored allows you to employ Tracks's largest accessory...
That's right! Tracks comes with a fully featured flight stand! It's a pretty robust piece of equipment, as it features a ratcheted joint at the base of the armature, as well as two extra pivots near the top (which can be adjusted with a screwdriver).
"A flying car? How droll!"
While it's no Thunderhawk from M.A.S.K., Tracks's flight mode is still a respectable airborne automobile.
Tracks's robot mode rocket launchers get to serve as tiny jet boosters in this mode.
Finishing off the toy's accessories is this small "front laser" that slides neatly into the Corvette's front bumper. Again, this is a pure cartoon creation, and Tracks sprouts this tiny weapon to fire his blinding Black Beam weapon while in car mode. While I wish the gun has been integrated into his body, you can still store it in the same place as his pistol and Blaster.
After a fairly involved transformation (please see my video), the classic Corvette becomes the fan-favorite Autobot warrior. Masterpiece Tracks is a bit more svelte than his cartoon model, but that is to be expected with a more accurate car mode (those curves can hide). He is roughly seven and a half inches tall (not including his movable wings).
And as I mentioned before, the Masterpiece figure integrates the missile launcher hoodie into the toy's transformation. It also inverts the resting position of the car's rear section, with the bumper facing up rather than downward like on the G1 Tracks. As a result, the backpack also "floats" a bit more off from the Autobot's main body, and can make him look hollow from certain angles. Personally, I don't mind it at all, because the reality of Tracks's design means he has to fit two whole arms into the back of the Corvette. I'm not even sure if the real C3 had room for a proper trunk!
Even with his slimmer proportions, Tracks still fits right in with a crowd of Masterpiece Autobots. And as per scale charts, he is about a head taller than either Sideswipe or Smokescreen.
Tracks looks about right with his smaller buddies, Raoul and Blaster.
"Let's get on the case, ace!"
Whether or not a proper Masterpiece Blaster will tower over his fellow Autobots remains to be seen...
"That's a real rad radio!"
Masterpiece Tracks has an appropriately handsome face sculpt framed within his somewhat knight-like helmet.
His head is on a hinged armature (for the transformation), which allows Tracks to peer over his techno-collar.
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Below the belt, Tracks's eternally happy crotch plate smiles to the world. It can flip upward if you need more room to pose his legs.
Opposite the happy crotch is the array of slots for storing Tracks's accessories. Unlike in car mode, you have enough room to peg on both of his weapons and Blaster, all at the same time.
The sides of Tracks's legs feature a neat homage to his toy's box art, with the impression of the shapely "Gundam-y" calves molded inside. Also, note that for robot mode the lower front of the bumper is flipped inward to fill in the gap between Tracks's legs and feet. This step is very easy to forget (as I did in my video), because it is purely for aesthetics and is not required for the transformation. Masterpiece Sideswipe has a similar setup with the rotating upper edges of his legs.
In terms of articulation, Masterpiece Tracks is about on par with the aforementioned Sideswipe. However, his transformation affords him a few extra joints, such as numerous shoulder swivels and even the ability to tilt his upper body back a bit. The latter helps the edge of his chest windshield clear the happy crotch plate as you rotate Tracks's waist.
One aspect of this toy that raises a few flags about Tracks being from a different designer is the presence of ratcheted joints in both his elbows and knees. None of the previous Masterpiece Autobot cars had those kind of joints, and they feel out of place on this toy. One of the elbows on my copy is kinda iffy too. It poses just fine, but the ratchet doesn't click solidly at each position. Again, I'm just kind of baffled as to why this was done with Tracks and none of the other Autobot cars to date.
"Now Raoul, you know you shouldn't judge people by their appearance. If I'd done that to a street rat like you, we'd never be friends now!"
"But I just don't get that dude's yellow boots, Tracks! He's nowhere near an oil rig!"
"If you just take the time to listen, you may find you have more in common besides being friends with an alien robot."
I gotta say, the inclusion of the Raoul figure reminded me of how neat it was to see the big Transformers interact with humans in the cartoon. It's not something a lot of fans normally think about, but these little figures let you create a fun little moment like in the show.
When Tracks needs to get down to business, you can equip him with his Black Beam gun. The Masterpiece toy uses the compact pistol design seen in the show, rather than the hand-covering sci-fi rifle seen with the G1 toy. Fret not, though - Tracks's sister-in-mold, Road Rage, will come with the G1 toy-style gun.
And while Tracks's multi-jointed shoulders can look a little weird with the way they "float" in front of his wings, they do allow him to hold his pistol two-handed like a highly skilled operative.
This stance is both really cool and pretty accurate to the cartoon, as Tracks was generally seen with both manipulators steadying his weapon.
He's basically a transforming robot James Bond.
Masterpiece Tracks just oozes style and class.
And best of all, Tracks can still use his stand in robot mode!
With this, Tracks can really get his John Woo on, in a way not really seen with previous Masterpiece figures.
"Keep San Francisco clean! LEAVE!"
Honestly? I think Tracks is a worthy entry in the Transformers Masterpiece toy line. In my eyes, the supposed change in lead designer hasn't compromised the toy in any way Tracks's own inherent quirks wouldn't have already done. This toy has to accomplish a lot, with the all-in-one missile launcher setup and fully integrated flight mode adding to the figure's complexity. Add those restrictions to what were probably mandated gimmicks from higher up (like the opening hood and overall size of the toy), and I can't imagine a "version Hasui" being markedly "better" than the Masterpiece toy we got. Like the Autobot cars that preceded him, Tracks is a cleverly engineered update of a classic Transformer design - one whose positives vastly outweigh his negatives (most of which are the same nitpicks you could apply to any MP Transformer). I will say, though, that the toy is not done any favor by some of its really tight joints. It's really the one thing that makes transforming Tracks back into car mode more difficult than going to robot mode. However, that is less of a problem at the design stage, and more of a problem with the manufacturing end. As a total package, though, I think Masterpiece Tracks is a cool car which converts into a very dynamic looking robot toy, one that assures me that the line is still on track.
|Posted 30 November, 2015 - 15:53 by VF5SS|